Pacita Abad, ‘European Mask’ 1990
Pacita Abad, European Mask 1990 . Tate . © Courtesy of the Pacita Abad Art Estate

Whose Tradition?

Bust of a Woman

Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Woman  1909

The treatment of the human figure in the Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque is often reminiscent of sculpture. In this work, made in mid-1909, Picasso used planes of warm greys and burnt sienna to establish the bulk of the body. The shifting directions of the brushstrokes indicate the depth of the surfaces and enhance individual features such as the conical socket of the eye. Such techniques were inspired by African sculptures. The poet André Salmon described Picasso’s studio as filled with the ‘strange wooden grimaces... [of] a superb selection of African and Polynesian sculpture’.

Gallery label, July 2013

© Succession Picasso/DACS 2021

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Head

Amedeo Modigliani, Head  c.1911–12

This is one of a series of radically simplified heads with elongated faces and stylised features that Modigliani made between 1911 and 1913. He was inspired by art from countries such as Cambodia, Egypt and Ivory Coast, which he saw in Paris’s ethnography museum. His patron Paul Alexandre recalled how Modigliani worked in this period: ‘When a figure haunted his mind, he would draw feverishly with unbelievable speed… He sculpted the same way. He drew for a long time, then he attacked the block directly.’

Gallery label, January 2019

Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

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DeLuxe

Ellen Gallagher, DeLuxe  2004–5

The imagery for this print series is based on magazines dating from the 1930s to the 1970s aimed at African-American audiences, many of which feature advertisements for ‘improvements’ including wigs, hair pomades and skin bleaching creams. Gallagher transformed these images using a variety of printing techniques, combining traditional processes of etching and lithography with recent developments in digital technology. She also made modifications by cutting and layering images and text and adding a range of materials including plasticine, glitter, gold leaf, toy eyeballs and coconut oil. Her witty and sophisticated interventions emphasise the complex construction of identity.

Gallery label, November 2007

© Ellen Gallagher

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Danaïde

Constantin Brancusi, Danaïde  c.1918

This is a stylised portrait of Margit Pogany, a Hungarian art student Brancusi met in Paris in 1910. He made a marble head of her from memory, then invited her to his studio. He was delighted when she recognised it. This is one of several bronzes based on the marble. Photographs show that Miss Pogany had a round face with large eyes and strong eyebrows, and wore her hair in a smooth chignon. Brancusi has refined her features down to the very purest form. The abstract curves of this piece, and of the other 'Danaïdes', can be seen as anticipating by some years, aspects of the classicising Art Deco style of the 1920s.

Gallery label, August 2004

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

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European Mask

Pacita Abad, European Mask  1990

This is one of a group of three quilted canvas works in Tate’s collection by the Filipino artist Pacita Abad (see also Bacongo III 1986, Tate T15298, and Bacongo IV 1986, Tate T15299). They are part of a series that Abad began in the late 1970s. Referring to them as trapuntos, from the Italian word for embroidery or quilt, these works are the artist’s responses to the cultural traditions that she encountered during her travels in Asia, Africa and Latin America, although they also refer to vernacular traditions of sewing – a traditional part of family education in the Philippines. They were made using large pieces of canvas onto which the artist stitched forms, creating a three-dimensional effect by stuffing the canvases and transforming their surface with paint, shells, buttons, beads, mirrors and other objects collected on her travels. Their decorated surfaces integrate a range of patterning techniques to create semi-figurative forms with what look like large eyes set in stylised, mask-like faces. Abad dispensed with stretcher bars and hung these works directly on the wall or from the ceiling and this, combined with the distinctive technique, transformed the relatively flat surface of a picture into something more multi-dimensional. The portability of the trapunto form can be said to resonate with the peripatetic aspect of a migrant existence as experienced by the artist, being an object that can theoretically be rolled up and more easily transported than a stretched painting.

© Courtesy of the Pacita Abad Art Estate

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Draped Nude

Henri Matisse, Draped Nude  1936

This is one of a series of four pictures, all the same size, painted in the spring of 1936. In the first the woman's hands meet in the centre of the picture and the entire lower leg is depicted. This painting, the second in the series, shows Matisse concerned to relate the figure to the edges of the picture: her body fills the space, and the position of her arms, in particular, appears to emphasise the shape of the canvas. The floral patterning of the woman's gown and the exotic plant behind her serve as quiet reminders of the theme of the harem girl, or odalisque, which was central to Matisse's work.

Gallery label, September 2004

© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2021

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Head of a Young Girl

Henri Laurens, Head of a Young Girl  1920

Like Head of a Boxer of the same year, Head of a Young Girl was made while Laurens was under contract to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. The works may have been given as gifts by Daniel-Henry to Gustav and Elly. The angular structure of the woman’s face contrasts with the soft waves of her hair and the gentle curve of her left shoulder, illustrating the beginning of Laurens’ move away from the more abstract geometric forms of Cubism towards a more organic style.

Gallery label, August 2004

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

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Walking Woman I

Alberto Giacometti, Walking Woman I  1932–3–1936, cast 1966

Giacometti joined the Surrealist group in 1931, when he was making disturbing and mysterious sculptures. The elongated forms of this figure echo ancient Egyptian and Greek art, but the fragmentary body is presented walking, as if encountered in a dream. At one stage, a head and feather-arms were added to the original plaster version. Giacometti removed them in recognition of the greater power of the simplified form.

Gallery label, July 2008

© The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2021

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B11 Box Bólide 09

Hélio Oiticica, B11 Box Bólide 09  1964

The Bólides (or Fireballs) are a series of sculptural objects, which Oiticica referred to as ‘Trans-Objects’, in which colour is apparently ‘inflamed’ by light and therefore embodies energy. Originally designed to be handled, they frequently incorporate raw earth or pigment in powdered form and other inexpensive, everyday or organic materials such as shells. This large Box Bólide includes a series of drawers or panels which are pulled out to reveal their contents or the different colours in which they are painted.

Gallery label, November 2015

© Projeto Hélio Oiticica

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Reclining Nude II

Henri Matisse, Reclining Nude II  1927

This small sculpture is part of a series in which the female nude is treated with increasing abstraction. The reclining figure takes up the languid pose of the odalisque, a traditional view of the female nude, which Matisse regularly used in his paintings and drawings. A balance is struck between the sensual, relaxed curves and the robust form of the supporting arm and shoulder.

Gallery label, November 2011

© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2021

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Ibaye

Wifredo Lam, Ibaye  1950

Lam made this work in Havana, Cuba. He had returned home from Europe following the outbreak of the Second World War. This prompted him to explore Cuban identity and culture in his work. ‘I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country’. Here, an abstracted horned figure, pictured from the waist up, is set against a smoky grey background. Lam explored African-Cuban visual culture to address themes of social injustice, nature and spirituality. Through his work, Lam was able to challenge assumptions about non-European art.

Gallery label, August 2020

© Tate

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Bacongo III

Pacita Abad, Bacongo III  1986

This is one of a group of three quilted canvas works in Tate’s collection by the Filipino artist Pacita Abad (see also Bacongo IV 1986, Tate T15299, and European Mask 1990, Tate T15297). They are part of a series that Abad began in the late 1970s. Referring to them as trapuntos, from the Italian word for embroidery or quilt, these works are the artist’s responses to the cultural traditions that she encountered during her travels in Asia, Africa and Latin America, although they also refer to vernacular traditions of sewing – a traditional part of family education in the Philippines. They were made using large pieces of canvas onto which the artist stitched forms, creating a three-dimensional effect by stuffing the canvases and transforming their surface with paint, shells, buttons, beads, mirrors and other objects collected on her travels. Their decorated surfaces integrate a range of patterning techniques to create semi-figurative forms with what look like large eyes set in stylised, mask-like faces. Abad dispensed with stretcher bars and hung these works directly on the wall or from the ceiling and this, combined with the distinctive technique, transformed the relatively flat surface of a picture into something more multi-dimensional. The portability of the trapunto form can be said to resonate with the peripatetic aspect of a migrant existence as experienced by the artist, being an object that can theoretically be rolled up and more easily transported than a stretched painting.

© Courtesy of the Pacita Abad Art Estate

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The Black Photo Album / Look at Me

Santu Mofokeng, The Black Photo Album / Look at Me  1997

© Santu Mofokeng, courtesy Maker, Johannesburg

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Mask

Henry Moore OM, CH, Mask  ?1928

Moore carved a disembodied head in alabaster in 1923 and a small mask in 1924. But it was not until 1928 that he showed a serious interest in the making of masks. In that year Moore bought a French book on pre-Columbian sculpture which included many illustrations of masks. During 1928-9 Moore made eight masks, four cast in concrete and four carved in stone. In this stone mask the eyes, nostrils and mouth are holes which have been drilled right through the material. This device of drilling a hole points to future developments in Moore's work because the sculptor came to believe that 'A hole can have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass.'

Gallery label, August 2004

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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Lost or Escaped

Hamed Abdalla, Lost or Escaped  1966

© Family Hamed Abdalla

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Mexican Church

Edward Burra, Mexican Church  c.1938

Burra visited Mexico in 1937 and this painting was based on two separate postcards collected at that time: one of an unusual recumbent crucifix in one church, the second of a reredos (or altarback), encrusted with ornamentation, in another (the postcards are displayed in a table case in this room. The decoration seems to be the focus of his attention. The addition of praying figures and the collection plate, however, show his awareness of the monuments' contemporary power and the small, poignant details of everyday life.

Gallery label, August 2004

© Tate

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Crystal Heads, British Museum, London, June-July 1936

Claude Cahun, Crystal Heads, British Museum, London, June-July 1936  1936

Cahun visited the British Museum while in London for the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936. The two-headed serpent sculpture in embodies the ideas of doubling, reflection and narcissism that run through the artist’s photographs. Cahun’s head is visible at the same size as the crystal skull on the upper left, and is similarly pale against the darker tones of all the other artefacts. The artist’s use of the plural in the title suggests that she intended the viewer to read her face as a second crystal head.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Claude Cahun

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Barkley L. Hendricks, Family Jules: NNN (No Naked Niggahs)  1974

Hendricks made four paintings featuring George Jules Taylor, one of his former students at Yale University. The other paintings showed him dressed in contemporary fashions, while this one depicts him nude except for his glasses. Hendricks was already a well-known African-American painter, and his decision to place a naked black male figure in the position of the traditional female ‘odalisque’ was extremely radical. As the title underlines, the painting confronts white fears and sexual stereotypes surrounding the black male. These issues are heightened by a realistic representational style that went against contemporary trends in black American art.

Gallery label, October 2016

18/29
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The Supper

Belkis Ayón, The Supper  1991

© reserved

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Joaquín Torres-García, Arte constructivo  1938

Torres-García fused constructivist elements and symbols drawn from South American culture to create a hybrid modernism that was also rooted in Pre-Columbian identity. He developed the grid structure during his years in Europe, where he lived between 1922 and 1934, however the content here is distinctively Latin American. In the centre of the top row is a sun symbolising Inti, the Incan sun god; in the lower area of the composition to the left is a stepped pyramid, symbolising the architecture of Pre-Columbian civilizations and to the right a simplified face representing the mother-earth goddess Pachamama.

Gallery label, November 2015

20/29
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Alchemy 50

Olga de Amaral, Alchemy 50  1987

© Olga de Amaral

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Lekythos

Lenore Tawney, Lekythos  1962

Lekythos 1962 is a large hanging sculpture made from knotting and weaving coarse linen threads that are suspended from metal rods. Many vertical threads hang loosely from the top of the work with a number being grouped and woven together to form a more dense central section. Lekythos is the ancient Greek name for a narrow-necked vessel used for storing oil, which the artist may have had in mind when titling the work, considering its narrowing form. She also referred specifically to the work as being like a fountain, with a sense of things flowing. Also in Tate’s collection are two other woven thread sculptures made the same year: The King I 1962 (Tate L03873), which combines natural thread with black thread; and The Queen 1962 (Tate L03874), which has a more complex structure but a simpler colour scheme, being woven entirely of natural coloured thread.

© Tate

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Head I

Bahman Mohassess, Head I  1966

Mohasses made this series of works in the late 1960s while he was living in Iran. These drawings are characteristic of his preoccupation with sculptural forms, organic shapes and human figures, elements he explored across a range of media. In each drawing a singular abstracted head, painted without any recognisable traits and only hints at facial features, emerges from a stark background. The heads resemble carved sculptures and merge characteristics of Western European traditions with elements from non-iconic Eastern and Asian cultures. After the Iranian Revolution Mohassess’ artworks were extensively censored by the Iranian state and most of his public sculptures were destroyed.

Gallery label, October 2016

© estate of Bahman Mohassess

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23/29
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Head II

Bahman Mohassess, Head II  1966

Mohasses made this series of works in the late 1960s while he was living in Iran. These drawings are characteristic of his preoccupation with sculptural forms, organic shapes and human figures, elements he explored across a range of media. In each drawing a singular abstracted head, painted without any recognisable traits and only hints at facial features, emerges from a stark background. The heads resemble carved sculptures and merge characteristics of Western European traditions with elements from non-iconic Eastern and Asian cultures. After the Iranian Revolution Mohassess’ artworks were extensively censored by the Iranian state and most of his public sculptures were destroyed.

Gallery label, October 2016

© estate of Bahman Mohassess

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25/29
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Head V

Bahman Mohassess, Head V  1966

This series of five small paintings in gouache on paper (Tate T13986–T13990) was painted in Iran in 1966. The artist titled the first two works in the series Head I and Head II, leaving the remaining three untitled. They have subsequently been titled Head III, Head IV and Head V accordingly. Each painting in the group depicts a singular, abstracted head, its form painted with few recognisable traits or facial characteristics beyond the suggestion of a rudimentary pair of eyes. Each is painted so as to resemble a carved, stone sculpture emerging as a free-standing object in stark relief against a largely monochromatic, grey background.

© estate of Bahman Mohassess

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Head IV

Bahman Mohassess, Head IV  1966

Mohasses made this series of works in the late 1960s while he was living in Iran. These drawings are characteristic of his preoccupation with sculptural forms, organic shapes and human figures, elements he explored across a range of media. In each drawing a singular abstracted head, painted without any recognisable traits and only hints at facial features, emerges from a stark background. The heads resemble carved sculptures and merge characteristics of Western European traditions with elements from non-iconic Eastern and Asian cultures. After the Iranian Revolution Mohassess’ artworks were extensively censored by the Iranian state and most of his public sculptures were destroyed.

Gallery label, October 2016

© estate of Bahman Mohassess

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27/29
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Untitled (Maya Temple, Chichen Itza, Mexico)

28/29
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Head III

Bahman Mohassess, Head III  1966

Mohasses made this series of works in the late 1960s while he was living in Iran. These drawings are characteristic of his preoccupation with sculptural forms, organic shapes and human figures, elements he explored across a range of media. In each drawing a singular abstracted head, painted without any recognisable traits and only hints at facial features, emerges from a stark background. The heads resemble carved sculptures and merge characteristics of Western European traditions with elements from non-iconic Eastern and Asian cultures. After the Iranian Revolution Mohassess’ artworks were extensively censored by the Iranian state and most of his public sculptures were destroyed.

Gallery label, October 2016

© estate of Bahman Mohassess

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29/29
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Art in this room

Bust of a Woman
Pablo Picasso Bust of a Woman 1909
Head
Amedeo Modigliani Head c.1911–12
DeLuxe
Ellen Gallagher DeLuxe 2004–5
Danaïde
Constantin Brancusi Danaïde c.1918
European Mask
Pacita Abad European Mask 1990
Draped Nude
Henri Matisse Draped Nude 1936

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At Tate Liverpool